The ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) has condemned the decision by the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) and GSM Companies to add surcharges on calls and internet data.
“We decry the breakdown of dispute resolution mechanism between the LTA and cell phone companies, and it is this breakdown that led to litigation, which culminated in the recent Supreme Court ruling favoring the government. Therefore, we are calling on them to settle their disagreements to bring relief to Liberians,” CDC Chairman Mulbah K. Morlu said.
At a news conference yesterday, Morlu called on Liberians to remain calm, indicating that President George Weah has been briefed on the issues and is expected to address the situation soon “for the benefit of consumers.”
The CDC chairman added that the party believes that despite the court ruling, both sides should return to the dispute resolution mechanism enshrined in the act establishing the LTA or to other suitable frameworks that place the Supreme Court ruling in its proper context. He further warns GSM Companies to refrain from collusion, which is a crime of economic sabotage.
“We do not aim to dwell on the facts and details of the recent pronouncement by the GSM Companies, the recent price changes announced by both companies, have elements of collusion, which is punishable under Liberian law,” Morlu claims.
It may be recalled that last week, GSM companies operating in Liberia, Lone Star MTN and Orange Liberia, added surcharges to voice calls and internet data giving limited time of call and internet usage to consumers. Before the imposition of the surcharges, consumers paid US$1.00 and used 45 minutes to call for three days, and US$2 to obtain 1.2 Gigabytes to browse the internet for seven days. Now the tone has changed to US$1 for 15 minutes of voice call and US$5 for 1.2 Gigabytes.
The imposition of the surcharges is coming at the time campaign for the pending senatorial election is beginning, and with these harsh economic conditions imposed by the LTA on Liberians, it is certain that many people can divert their thoughts from supporting the CDC to the opposition.
Morlu added that frantic discussions surrounding the legal and financial ramifications of the surcharge are ongoing and assured Liberians of a return to the status quo in the pricing of data and calls very soon.
Morlu continued: “We remind the GSM Companies that it’s always the interest of the government of Liberia to protect businesses and their investments, but to do so in a way that enhances the interest of the Liberian people.”
Morlu’s criticism of the GSM companies comes at a time when Orange Liberia has defended the imposition of surcharges on voice calls and mobile data, despite the LTA’s claim that it is illegal.
According to Orange Liberia, the imposition of the new surcharges or price on voice calls and mobile data came as a result of an order from the regulator after a court battle.
“Notwithstanding, the LTA wants Orange Liberia to pay surcharges, which Orange Liberia never collected from its customers and which Orange Liberia could not collect during the pendency of the Petition for Judicial Review lawsuit because the law is that the effectiveness of LTA ORDER was suspended while that matter was in court,” the company said. “By LTA demanding now that Orange Liberia should pay the surcharges in the amount of US$19.3 million, which was never collected by Orange Liberia from its customers, the LTA is effectively ordering Orange Liberia into bankruptcy; which is unacceptable to Orange Liberia.”
However, Orange Liberia said it is ready and prepared to meet with the LTA to amicably resolve the matter in a mutually beneficial way; but “The LTA’s demand that the surcharges should be paid by Orange Liberia from its revenues/assets, not by Orange Liberia’s customers, is tantamount to running Orange Liberia into bankruptcy, as its revenue cannot under any circumstance afford such a huge amount.”
Meanwhile, Chairman Morlue has added that: “The CDC would like to remind Liberians that LTA’s policy of floor pricing was intended to protect Lone Star Cell from an aggressive price race to the bottom that was being waged by Orange, a cutthroat competition that would have led to Lone Star Cell going out of business.”
According to him, the government worked to save Lonestar and hundreds of Liberian jobs, stating “Today, it is the very Lonestar that is acting in a manner contrary to the interest of the Liberian people.”
The surcharge which has been imposed by the GSM companies contained in an LTA order 0016-02-25-19, introducing floor prices on voice and data calls.
Sections 4.1., 4.2, and 4.3 of the LTA order mandate the GSM companies to impose surcharges of $0.008 per minute on voice-on-net calls and $0.00065 per MB (or $0.6656 per GB) on data six months after the cancellation of the widely popular “3-day free calls”.
Such a move by Orange Liberia and its competitor, Lonestar Cell MTN, has erased the modest mobile call and data rates consumers have been accustomed to overtime.
Chairman Morlu further urged the LTA to exercise care and prudence when announcing policies that have implications on the Liberian people, because according to him such decisions have the propensity to undermine the reputation of the government which is “Pro-poor” at its core.
Recounting what he considers as the progress of the CDC-led Government, Morlu said the Weah Administration was the one to declare free tuition for the state-run University of Liberia and it is the same that is currently paying WASSE fees for high school students. Mr. Morlu also mentioned that the CDC government also raised the income of more than 15,000 government employees.